With their regular seasons dwindling to a handful of games, the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks both appear destined for the NBA play-in tournament. The final meeting between the two teams on Saturday in Atlanta will help determine their postseason future.
The Nets and the Hawks are tied with Charlotte at 40-37 for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland (42-35) is currently No. 7 but has lost five of its past six games. All four teams have a mathematical, albeit unlikely, chance of catching No. 6 Toronto (44-32) and earning a place in the playoffs, so this game is more about seeding in the play-in tourney.
Brooklyn has won both meetings with Atlanta this season, each game played before Christmas. The Nets won the most recent contest 113-105 on Dec. 10. Brooklyn has won four of the past five games in the series.
Like last season, the Hawks have gotten hot at the right time. Atlanta has won four straight and nine of its last 12, including Thursday’s 131-107 win over Cleveland.
“Five games left. Got to keep it going,” said Atlanta’s Kevin Huerter. “We’ve got another one here on Saturday. Keep it rolling.”
Brooklyn has lost two of its past three games but has won eight of its last 12. The Nets lost a heartbreaking 120-119 overtime game to Milwaukee on Thursday. Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said he wasn’t really watching the scoreboard.
“I’m not averse to seeing how (Cleveland) is doing and where they’re at, but it’s not something that I’m refreshing my feed daily,” Nash said.
Huerter is currently playing at a high level for the Hawks. He scored 23 points against the Cavaliers and has scored at least 20 points in a career-best four straight games. Huerter was also the primary defender on Cleveland’s Darius Garland, who was limited to 18 points.
“He was the player of the game for us,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said. “He had a good game on both sides of the ball and guarding Garland … that’s a challenge. He did a good job of staying connected, trying to keep in front of him and not allowing him to see anything clean. Offensively, he’s in rhythm.”
Atlanta’s Trae Young left the game late in the first half with a right groin strain but returned in the second half and wound up with 30 points in 28 minutes.
“I thought it was pretty serious and to see him come back was a good sign,” McMillan said.
Young, No. 4 in the NBA in scoring with 28.2 points per game, will be showcased against Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, who is averaging 29.6 points and would rank a spot above Young if he had enough games to qualify for the season scoring title. Durant has played in 50 games.
Durant is averaging 30.6 points per game in March and scored 26 against the Bucks. He is averaging 28.6 in 25 career games against Atlanta and 31.5 points in two games this season.
Brooklyn’s Bruce Brown sustained a bone bruise in his left wrist after being fouled on a breakaway dunk by Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton on Thursday, a play that led to Middleton’s ejection.
“I feel fine,” Brown said. “I’m good. I think I just bruised a bone in my wrist. I didn’t think he was going to grab me out of the air, but it’s cool. Just a hard foul.”
Brown remained in the game.